One of the quintessential dishes of Sephardi cooking, dafina is a slow-cooked Shabbat stew that traces its history back to medieval Spain. It goes by many names, including hamin, dafina, and adafina, which means “buried” in Arabic, since the pots were either buried or cooked under a stone, depending on the source you consult. The dish is referenced in documents from the Inquisition, when preparing the stew on Fridays was given as proof that a Converso (someone who’d converted to Christianity) continued to practice Judaism in secret. There are countless variations of the stew across the Sephardi Diaspora that vary by community and even household, but haminados, or eggs that are cooked in their shells until they turn brown, are a hallmark. In Moroccan communities like Esther’s, chickpeas are commonly added. But sometime after moving to Brazil in the late nineteenth century, cooks in her community replaced them with flour dumplings called café de massa. This Portuguese term means “coffee dough,” because “it was said that it was because the dough color [when cooked] looked like coffee,” Esther explains. Like cholent (page 358) and other Shabbat stews, this hearty dish cooks for a long time. Esther’s recipe also requires marinating the meat for at least 8 hours, so plan accordingly.

Excerpted from The Jewish Holiday Table by Naama Shefi and the Jewish Food Society (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2024. Photographs by Penny De Los Santos.


Serves 6 to 8
    For the marinade:
  • 2 or 3 beef marrow bones, about 3 inches
  • 2 pounds brisket, chuck, or other beef stew meat, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • For the dumplings:
  • 225 grams all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

  • For the dafina:
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 4 to 6 large eggs
  • 5 cups water
Cookware Used
The Dutchess
6.75-Quart Cast-Iron Dutch Oven
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Holy Sheet
Nonstick Half-Sheet Pan
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The Great Tool Family
5-Piece Silicone Utensil Set
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Marinate the beef bones and brisket:

Put the beef bones and cubed beef in a large bowl. Add the garlic, vegetable oil, vinegar, and salt and mix and turn the ingredients until all the meat and bones are coated with the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Make the dumplings:

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, egg, water, and salt and stir until the ingredients come together into a dough. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Lightly flour your work surface and roll each piece into a rope about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick.

2. Cut one rope into 1/2-inch (1.25 cm) pieces. Roll each piece between your palms to form a spherical dumpling, and then poke a dimple into the center with your thumb. As you work, put the shaped dumplings on a plate or tray, keeping them separate so they don’t stick together.

3. Continue with the rest of the dough ropes until all the dumplings are formed. Sprinkle a generous few pinches of flour over the dumplings and toss until they’re all lightly coated with flour, then spread the dumplings on the parchment-lined baking sheet.

4. Bake the dumplings until they are golden brown and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 220°F.

Cook the dafina:

1. Remove the beef bones and brisket from the marinade (discard the marinade) and pat dry with paper towels. Place The Dutchess over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons oil. Once the oil is hot, add the bones and beef to the pot. Sear the meat and bones until nicely browned on all sides, about 15 minutes total, taking care that the pan juices don’t get too dark and burn. Transfer the meat and bones to a bowl.

2. Add about 2 tablespoons water to the pot, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot to dissolve the pan juices, then simmer for a few seconds, until the liquid has evaporated. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until they are a deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes, adjusting the heat if the onions or garlic are getting too dark. Add the cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, sugar, salt, and pepper and cook for another minute, stirring to distribute the spices.

3. Put the seared meat and bones back into the pot and add the potatoes and eggs. Add enough water to just barely cover the ingredients; it’s fine if the bones are a bit above the water level. Gently stir the mixture to distribute the ingredients and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the pot with a lid and transfer to the oven. Cook the dafina for 1 hour.

4. Take the pot out of the oven, add the baked dumplings, along with any flour on the baking sheet, and gently stir the mixture. Cover the pot again and return it to the oven. Cook the stew  for at least 8 hours longer or overnight. Remove from the oven. Taste the cooking liquid and adjust the seasoning with more salt if needed. Remove the eggs, peel them, and return them to the dafina.

5. To serve, put some beef, potatoes, and dumplings into each serving bowl and then ladle over the cooking liquid. Distribute the eggs and marrow bones to a few lucky diners.